Sunday, June 6, 2010

Big Star - Chicago

The king of Alfresco, Big Star is a bar that happens to serve tacos. It was apparent when the bouncer told us to go to one of the three communal picnic tables to eat because the patio tables were for people who were going to order drinks. This was at 11:30 AM when they just opened and the huge patio was empty. Sitting at the communal table, I ran into a twenty something who told me the same story…except this had happened to him more than once. Ouch!

Lesson One: Maybe we should start drinking at lunch or who made up these silly rules anyway? A paying customer is a paying customer.

Paul Kahan (Blackbird, Avec, and the Publican) and Michael Rubel(Violet Hour) are partners in this successful venture which was written up by Chicago Magazine as one of the Best New Restaurants.

You’ll love the price point but come armed with plenty of cash because credit cards are not accepted… and maybe you can use some of it to pay off the bouncer to get a table?

When I rounded the corner on to Damen I was taken by surprise. This space looks a lot like a garage with an oversized, make shift patio in the parking lot. Lesson Two: Don't judge a book by its cover!
For tacos, we ordered the lamb shoulder, pork belly and tacos al Pastor. These were served on house made mini (itty-bitty to be exact) corn tortillas. Of all the flavors, I liked the al Pastor the best which had just the right amount of pineapple and spice but a little too much grease but that's good hangover food and remember you're here to drink!

The queso fundido was also really good. You can wash it down with a michelada – a $4 Tecate in a salt rimmed glass with tomatoe juice, lime and house made hot sauce or order the $1 Schlitz shorty.

Since the few tables inside are for parties of four or more and you can’t sit on the patio unless you order a drink, be prepared to hit the carryout window and get your food to go.

     Order# 0001

My lunch came in at $7 and we split so we tried a lot of food for twice the price. Make sure to tip the kitchen staff at the take out window. They were all really friendly and amusing so learn a little Spanish to speak with them and you’ll get the royal treatment.

When I was searching through my Food and Wine Magazine this morning, I came across the recipe for Tacos al Pastor that they adapted from the Big Star recipe so I made it today.

I know this looks like a lot of ingredients and it is but this recipe is so good and worth the extra effort to acquire all of the chilies.

I get mine at a Mexican Market in Highwood and many of the fresh chilies can also be found at the Spice House (which is also mail order) on Central Street in Evanston.

Once you’ve done the marinating, the rest of this recipe is a coast…and once again, there is Coca-Cola in the recipe.

See How Good This Looks? Fresh Ingredients Are The Key.

Tacos Al Pastor

4 dried guajillo chiles (about 1 ounce)

1 dried ancho chile

2 dried chipotle chiles

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1/2 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1/4 cup Coca-Cola

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 teaspoon annatto seeds

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 whole clove

1/2 tablespoon brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for grilling

2 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

Salt and freshly ground pepper

12 corn tortillas, warmed

Grilled pineapple, chopped red onion and cilantro, for serving
1. Stem and seed all of the dried chiles and place them in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with water and microwave at high power until softened, about 3 minutes. Let cool slightly, then drain and transfer to a blender. Add the orange juice, lime juice, soda and vinegar. In a spice grinder, grind the annatto with the oregano, cumin, clove, sugar and garlic powder until fine. Add the spice mixture to the blender and blend until smooth.

2. Transfer the marinade to a saucepan. Add the 2 tablespoons of oil and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until very thick, about 5 minutes; let cool. Transfer the marinade to a large resealable plastic bag. Add the pork and onion and seal the bag. Refrigerate overnight.

3. Light a grill. Remove the pork and onion from the marinade and scrape most of it off. Brush the pork and onion with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderate heat, turning, until the meat is cooked through, 15 minutes. Transfer the pork and onion to a work surface, cover loosely with foil and let stand 10 minutes.

4. Cut the pork into strips. Serve the pork and onion with the warmed tortillas, grilled pineapple, red onion and cilantro.

Lesson Three: Yes, you can cook this stuff at home and once in awhile, it's better!

Queso Fundido

When I lived in Guadalajara, there was a restaurant that made the best queso fundido. Honestly, I think we ate there just about every day after school.

There is only one way to eat it – like the natives do with salsa verde and a dash of salt. The cheese can be tricky to find but many WalMart’s carry it.

This straightforward recipe is addictive and great for parties. Serve with a bucket of ice-cold tecates rimmed with salt and a fresh lime squeezed into each.

1 package flour tortillas, warmed

1 Bag Supremo Queso Chihuahua

1 Cup Salsa Verde

1 shaker salt

Spread the queso on a pizza pan. Put under the broiler and melt. Just when it turns a little brown, pull out the cheese.

Serve with flour tortillas, chili verde and a dose of salt.

Bon Appetit and Salud!